We Came Here Last Year as Tourists

Anonymous_blog

 Karl Schembri, Middle East Regional Media Manager, Save the Children International

Iraq

June 26, 2014

 


I’m walking around Erbil’s city centre with our assessment team as they look around inside motels for displaced Iraqi families in need of help. One family after another, they all tell us how they’re running out of money, having to move out onto the streets with no clue where to go.

Iraq Blog 1

Sufian*, 12, and his sister, Fatima*, 14, in the family's hotel room in Erbil. The family fled the violence in their hometown Tikrit. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

In a small motel tucked in the bazaar just a minute’s walk away from the historic citadel, I meet 12-year-old Sufian*. His parents and two siblings are crammed in a room. A little suitcase lies on the bed as they collect the few belongings they brought with them when they fled from the hellish explosions and gunfire in Tikrit a week ago. His father, clearly distraught, tells me their money has run out and they are now leaving. 

“We came here a year ago as tourists during Eid al Adha,” Sufian tells me. “We know the motel owner; we stayed here last year. He’s been very kind to us and gave us slashed prices, but my father has no more money left. Where will we go? Maybe in the streets, in the parks… there’s no place for us.”

Here is a middle income family who afforded to come as tourists last year, right in the same place where they are now seeking refuge. Sufian himself grasps the bitter irony and goes on to explain to me what it feels like.

“When we travelled as tourists we felt safe, there were policemen at the border and everything was orderly. We came to relax, we were comfortable. It’s not the case as displaced people. We had to flee from explosions, armed men, no security.

“When we came as tourists we got all the things we needed; our clothes and all the stuff you need when you’re travelling. When you’re fleeing you have to escape quickly. We couldn’t bring anything except the clothes we have on us.”

Iraq Blog 2

Sufian *, 12, Fatima *, 14, and their little brother, Kamal*, 6, in the family's hotel room. "Even if it's not safe to go there, I want to avoid ending up on the street", said the children's father. "I tell my little brother stories when he has nightmares during the night", Sufian says. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

Having to flee like that is something Sufian and his family never expected to have to go through. He dreamt of becoming a doctor to help people in need, but now the future is bleak, he doesn’t even know where he will sleep tonight and the tragedy is still sinking in. He misses his friends, his neighborhood, playing football with his mates. He tells me his 6-year-old brother gets nightmares at night, so he consoles him by telling him stories until he sleeps again.

But it’s a nightmare for the entire family, really, as it is for thousands of others fleeing from the raging conflict in Iraq right now. One might say we are all tourists in this fleeting life of ours, but nobody should be forced to flee from home, leaving everything behind, with no idea where to spend the night.

*Names have have been changed to protect identities.

Stimulating Early Learners

Portrait 1

Hend Saad

Early Childhood Care and Development Coordinator, Save the Children Egypt

June 25, 2014

 

 

“I feel filled with happiness when I see a child smiling with that innocent look in their eyes,” said Hend Saad.

Hend joined Save the Children in Egypt in 2013 to support our Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Program which provides families with access to safe places for their young children to learn play and make friends. Hend works directly with children on a daily basis, and is one of the lucky people who adores her job.  At  ECCD class

“I remember one day when I arrived at an ECCD class to monitor the activities, and a five year old boy Ahmed ran towards me after he noticed that I was holding a camera .He excitedly asked me to take a picture of him which I did. I was struck by his eloquence and couldn’t help thinking of children who did not have a safe place like that to develop, be stimulated and grow.

At ECCD  classWhen I returned home I thought again of Ahmed, and that comparison remained in my mind: Ahmed the confident kid who participates in ECCD, and other children who spend most of their time playing on the streets with little care and almost no stimulation from anyone. I realized that our mission in Egypt is not easy, and there are many challenges, but I will work when all children can join ECCD classes. It’s not only good for their development, it’s their right!”

 

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Time to stop talking….

I spent last week at the Clinton Global Initiative and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. There was much talking about issues of international development, about the rights of children to an education, about saving children dying from preventable things like pneumonia, about making sure that the world is free from hunger. But with all this talking maybe there was simply not enough of one thing – not enough shouting. We need louder voices to make changes on what really needs to be done for poor children and families around the world. Perhaps simply put, we need more people to care and speak out about the issues we talked about there.

 

Leaders from many countries, CEO’s from big companies, and NGO leaders like me converge on New York every September for these events. We have endless meetings on international development issues, we make commitments to change the world, we go to long dinners honoring those who have done good works around the world. But does the rest of the world pay much attention to what we discuss endlessly among ourselves? I don’t think so and perhaps the most important thing for me coming out of the week is the realization that it will take something different to make real change. It will take regular people caring about what the desperate reality is for poor people around the world and wanting to change it.

 

Making that happen is a much harder task than attending the whirlwind of CGI and UNGA week, as they are affectionately called. We need to interrupt people’s lives and get them to pay attention to how the poorest people on earth live their lives – lives without health, lives without education, lives without the basic dignity of a means to support themselves and their families. Most importantly, we need people to not only pay attention but to do something once they do.

 

One way Save the Children is trying to get people to take notice is to interrupt their normal lives in the places they spend them. You can now download a new song called “Feel Again” on I-Tunes and make a difference for children dying of preventable causes. You can sign a petition on-line to stop the atrocities happening to children in Syria. And you can donate to the famine in Sahel while you play on-line games. Will all this be enough to get people to really understand how different our lives are from the millions of poor people who survive every day on less than $2? I’m not sure but I do know that if I can’t get the world to pay more attention, we’ll never make the headway we need to for the millions of children who won’t survive and thrive unless things change.

Sponsorship in a New District

Junima shakya

Junima Shakya

Nepal Sponsorship Manager

June 19, 2014

 

 

After a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our regional office in Biratnagar, we reached our destination Saptari. Saptari is an eastern Terai district of Nepal where Save the Children will soon launch its Sponsorship program. The first stop in Saptari was our new partner organization's office. We all then headed to Launiya, a village in Saptari.

Grade two children in primary school on Launiya village

Grade two children in Launiya village's primary school

We reached the only school, and a primary school at that, in Launiya village. Due to lack of classrooms, pre-k and grade one students share the same classroom. During our conversation with one of the pre-k facilitators, Usha Kumari Mandal, we found out that she received a formal training on early education many years back, but has not been updated about the standard methods of teaching. She expressed her concern over the sharing of the classrooms and added, "It is difficult to care for children…plus, it becomes chaotic when two teachers try to teach their lessons simultaneously to these two groups in the same classroom."

Grade four children in school of Ko Madhepura village

Grade four children in school at of Ko Madhepura village

Anticipating similar challenges, we moved to our second destination, Ko Madhyapura. We witnessed the same problems. Lack of room required children from different grades to share a single classroom. The classrooms were in deplorable conditions. Students in one of the classrooms actually shared space with a pile of bricks. We noticed that the school had a majority of female students, only 26 out of 155 registered students were malw. When inquired, one of the teachers informed us that while parents sent their daughters to government schools, they sent their sons to private schools for better education opportunities.

We could not help but notice that almost half of the registered students remained absent in the school. We saw some children accompanying their parents in the household chores or some leisurely spending their time playing in the pond near the school. Very few parents in this community realize the importance of education in their children's lives and when parents go out to work, they keep their eldest child in charge of the house and their siblings. The head teacher of the school suggests that these problems can partly be overcome by providing training on active teaching and learning methods for teachers. He further adds, "The regularity of students can be improved by maintaining a sound teaching and learning environment… we should also focus on creating and managing proper classrooms for students."

Children in school of Launiya

Children in school at Launiya village

The challenges in this community are many. Ultra-poverty, lack of awareness, different priorities concerning one's immediate survival, and decades of oppression by the so-called elite groups are some of the major causes preventing this community from living a prosperous life. The younger generation needs a little lift to fulfill their dreams and hopes of better lives.

We are glad that our Sponsorship program will soon be there for that!

 

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Living in Limbo

Syrian children across the region have it very tough. There are now almost three million refugees who have fled Syria since the war started more than three years ago and an estimated 50% of them are children. They spread across five countries, with the highest number in Lebanon—nearly 1 million refugees living there in informal camps and in towns and cities. The country with the second highest number of displaced Syrians is Turkey, where most refugees live along a border that has not only geographic but cultural, historic, and economic ties with Syria.

 

Carolyn_Turkey_blog_2014Children here face many challenges, including the fact that most older children cannot go to school because they don’t speak Turkish. Families move constantly, trying to find work to make enough to feed themselves. But the children who have it toughest are those who are orphaned or are unaccompanied and living with extended family. Being a Syrian orphan means your father has died and thus you and your mother likely do not have any support unless family members or aid steps in to help.

 

We found a special kind of support for these children when we visited a local school. An amazing woman we met, Rana*, runs a school for orphaned Syrian children living in Antakya, giving them a bright and cheery school in which to spend their time with instruction in their native Arabic and, importantly, tutoring in Turkish and English as well. The school swells with up to 300 children in a tiny three-story house when school is in full session. When we visited, it was the start of summer vacation so there were about 60 children ages 4 through 13. Most of the children were smiling and playful, though painfully there were a few who hung back and only looked at us with sad eyes when we tried to play and smile with them. All of them had lost at least one parent—some both—and had been taken in by aunts, uncles or neighbors coming from Syria.

 

Save the Children is supplying some emergency aid to the school in the form of summer clothes and shoes, as well as school materials, but it’s not enough. Rana struggles to find support for the school, needing to pay the rent, teacher salaries, cost of instructional materials, and transportation costs to allow the children to get across town to attend. She is also raising two disabled boys as well as two other children and, despite those challenges, she raises much of the funding for the school herself. Her selflessness makes her school a bright spot for children who have been through so much, and still face so many challenges.

 

As we ended our visit, one of the youngest girls posed proudly outside the school as the bus pulled up to take her home. Rana and her teachers stood on the curb ready to help the children onto the bus. It was an ideal picture of happy student and steadfast teacher—but the circumstances are far from ideal. I hope on my next trip back to Turkey I can see Rana’s work with children grow even stronger thanks to greater support for the Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

 

*Names have been changed.

South Sudan: Six Months of Fighting, a Generation of Children at Risk


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children , South Sudan

June 15, 2014

 
 

Six months ago today, fighting of shocking brutality erupted in South Sudan.

The toll of those months of conflict makes grim reading: more than 500,000 children have been forced to flee their homes and are now scattered across the bush, staying in overstretched communities or bunched together in camps, their lives in limbo.

Three-quarters of those hit by the crisis are under 18

There are 95 schools that remain occupied by armed groups or displaced people;  a quarter of all schools in the country are closed.

Image001_SouthSudanCommunities are cut off from supplies with families surviving on leaves and grass. Famine looms. Unless swift action is taken, 2.5 million children face a hunger crisis and 50,000 are likely to die of malnutrition.

More than 9,000 children have been recruited into armed groups since the fighting began, while at least 22,300 have been affected by grave violations including attacks on schools, sexual violence and abductions.

South Sudan’s children have suffered for six months. The question is, what kind of future will they have?

Building lasting peace and security

I have seen children responding with courage, hope and determination. All parties involved in the fighting should follow their example.

These brave children are at serious risk, not just from the violence but from the psychological impact of what they have already been through. Without psychosocial support now to help them recover from their traumatic experiences, the events of these past few months could scar their entire futures.

Dwindling food stocks, rising prices and empty stomachs

Many communities are trapped: completely cut off from possible help. To travel along roads that cross the front line? “That is the end of your life,” I have been told.

Other, less dangerous, roads have become impassable as the rains turn rough roads into muddy quagmires.

In remote areas, families already eating grass and leaves have told me their food supplies will run out completely by the end of June. The rains will also become too heavy then to plant crops.

These children want to learn

These people desperately need seeds and tools now so they’ll have a harvest in the autumn. Otherwise, the hunger crisis will only deepen. And they need food to see them through until then.

Yet with all the hardship, hunger and uncertainty, children tell me they want education above all. They are right to want this: the longer a child is out of school, the further they fall behind and the more likely they are never to return. South Sudan’s future depends on giving its children their right to learn.

Six months on from the start of the crisis the need to act could not be more urgent. Save the Children is doing whatever it takes to bring children protection, education, and treatment for malnourishment. We need your help to reach more children. Their future hangs in the balance.

 Donate to help the children of South Sudan.

South Sudan: “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family, but hunger could.”


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children , South Sudan

June 16, 2014

 
 

Nyandong and Sunday“Nyandong* looks straight at me. She is unflinching. Small, thin limbs occasionally wrap around her or clamber up, looking for purchase, as her children mill around us. She has her malnourished one year old boy quiet and still in her arms and her face is intent as she tells me what has happened to her family since brutal fighting engulfed many parts of Jonglei, South Sudan, in December.

“Innocent people were killed in those days. There were a lot of us running together then some of the people we were with got caught. They were surrounded and killed. It was just by luck that we survived. We crouched and hid behind a fence, just hoping no-one would find us. I could see the scared faces of my children, and armed men walking the streets looking for people to kill.

 “When the sun set we left. We took nothing and it took us thirty days to walk here. We ate the leaves off the trees and I thought we would die of thirst. When we saw birds circling in the sky we followed them because we hoped they would be flying above water. I don’t know how we survived.

 “My children kept asking me for food and water but I didn’t have any. The children were constantly crying. They got rashes on their skin and became thin. They wanted to stop. They fell down on their knees and cut themselves. I had to pull them along – if we stopped we would have died there. My daughter had to bring her little brother, but he was too tired. I had to tell her to drag him along even though he cried.

 We are talking in remote Nyirol county, in an area set back from the frontline where tens of thousands of people have fled for safety. But Nyandong explains that for her family and many others, one threat has been replaced by another. Severe hunger is the price they have paid to escape the bullets.

 “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family. But hunger could. Hunger could kill everyone here. Nyandong and family

 “We depend on others. When people in the community give us some food, then we can eat. We eat one small meal a day. We mix grass and leaves in with sorghum to make it last longer. The leaves are very bad for children – it gives them diarrhoea.

 There is just one chink of light. Save the Children screened Nyandong’s 1 year old daughter Sunday* and found she was severely malnourished. We have been providing therapeutic feeding to begin nursing her back to health. “Sunday was about to die” Nyandong says. “She was very thin. A baby should walk one year after she is born but Sunday is more than a year old and still she can’t because of the malnourishment. If she has food I know she will walk soon. And my other children are suffering so much. They have nothing.”

 In South Sudan 50,000 children are likely to die from malnourishment unless treatment is scaled up immediately. Save the Children is helping catch children like Sunday before it is too late, but we need your help to reach more.

 Donate to help the children of South Sudan.

*Names changed to protect identities

South Sudan: A Family Torn Apart by Violence


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children UK

June 4, 2014

 
 

“We could see and hear the fighting outside,” Majak*, a 77-year-old grandfather in South Sudan tells me. “Men were firing machine guns in the street. Bullets flew through the windows into our building. We lay under the beds to hide.” He was celebrating a family wedding when the violence erupted in Juba (the capital of South Sudan).

Separated from his children in the chaos

“After three days it was safe to leave. When we came out there were dead bodies in the streets, and I heard that there had also been fighting in my home town. It had been overrun and the road back was blocked.”

SSD-cf2-13_BlogDanStewartMajak had no choice. There was only one safe way out of Juba, and it was in the opposite direction to his home. In the chaos his children became separated from him.

“I was so scared thinking of my children. I had no phone and no way to contact them. I was losing my senses in this time. I can barely remember it. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was not thinking about me, just my children.”

 “I didn’t know what to do”

When he eventually reached safety, he tells me, “I didn’t know what to do. Then I heard Save the Children were looking for children who were alone, and asking people if they had lost their children. So I told them and they said they would try to help.”

Save the Children is working across South Sudan to identify children who have been separated from their parents, give them protection and support, and ultimately reunite them with their families.

It was ten long days before our team brought Majak the news he was desperately hoping for, but feared would never come.

Save the Children reunites another family

His children were safe and well more than 185 miles away in Awerial, where around 100,000 people had fled across the River Nile.

Today, I am talking to Majak and his family on the edge of this tented city. Save the Children brought Majak here to be with his children, and have provided essential aid items to the whole family.

“When I heard my children were okay I was totally, extremely happy. When we saw each other again we all cried with happiness. I thought I was calm but when it happened I couldn’t control my happiness.

“Thank God and Save the Children for finding my children.”

Majak’s youngest, Abiei*, is just 5 years old. When she’s not pulling faces or inviting us for a sleepover she makes one thing clear: “The best thing in this place is being with my father.”

 

To help the children of South Sudan click here.